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Four F-22s prepare for take-off - image courtesy Lockheed Martin
The Raptor is still shaping up to be a fine aircraft platform

The United States Air Force (USAF) F-22A Raptor has only been in operational service for a little over a year now, and the advanced fighter aircraft is already shaping up to be quite a formidable weapon in the skies. The F-22 can supercruise (achieve supersonic speeds without afterburner) at Mach 1.58 and has a top speed of Mach 2+ thanks to its twin Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofan engines.

Over the past year, F-22s have partaken in a number of simulated "wargames" to display the capabilities of the aircraft. In one two-week excursion in Alaska, designated Northern Edge, the "Blue Air" team which was led by F-22s simply obliterated its "Red Air" threat.

The Red Air threat was composed of a number of previous generation Air Force and Navy aircraft including the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18 Super Hornet. During the exercise, in which more than 40 aircraft littered the skies, the Blue Team achieved a remarkable 241-to-2 kill ratio. It should be noted that the 2 aircraft lost on the Blue Team were F-15C aircraft and not the F-22s.

"They [the Red Air adversaries] couldn’t see us," Tolliver said. "And that’s what makes the F-22 special. I’m out there and I have weapons like an F-15C or an F-16, but ... I’m basically invisible to the other guy’s radar," said Toliver.

The F-22's also scored a 97% mission effective rate during Northern Edge, flying 102 out of 105 assigned sorties. No other new aircraft to enter service into the USAF has been able to achieve such high readiness levels.

Over the past year, the F-22 has had many other success stories. The aircraft has successfully handled alternating air-to-air and air-to-ground operations and have provided additional sensor coverage for trailing friendly aircraft. F-22s have also released JDAMs from an altitude of 50,000 feet while traveling at Mach 1.5 and successfully fired AIM-120C-5 and AIM-9M missiles at live drone aircraft.

Despite all of the successes, there is still room for improvement in the F-22 program. The aircraft's mechanical readiness is now pegged at 70 to 75%, which is slightly lower than the USAF's optimal 75 to 78% rating. Also, pilots are asking for dual-mode satellite/laser guided bombs for the aircraft as well as a helmet-mounted firing system for weapons. Other improvements already in queue include an upgraded radar system and enhanced capabilities in the event of an electronic attack.

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RE: Over budget
By bobm on 2/4/2007 11:34:17 PM , Rating: 3
One reason for the reduction in the number of aircraft ordered is in addition to the huge run up in cost the development of unmanned aircraft has advanced faster than expected and the F22 will serve as more of a transition force to tide the military over until UAV's enter service in number and to also demonstrate next generation technology which is being incorporated in UAV's. The cost overruns are disappointing and worrying but the next generation of aircraft for the military will be far more capable than the F22 without the risk to pilot lives and costs should be more manageable. And the fatigue problem you reference is not a design flaw but a manufacturing shortcoming that can be more easily corrected with tighter quality control.

RE: Over budget
By ADDAvenger on 2/4/2007 11:58:01 PM , Rating: 2
How do UAVs do in dogfights, isn't lag a problem? People curse satellite internet because its ping times are so high, I imagine there'd be the same problems with UAVs (ie over enemy territory where there are no land-based trancievers in range).

RE: Over budget
By stromgald on 2/5/07, Rating: -1
RE: Over budget
By saratoga on 2/5/2007 2:52:43 AM , Rating: 4
Lag isn't a significant problem because the signals sent and recieved are compressed and information is simplified to the bare essentials. It also helps that the military has much better bandwidth than you think.

Lag generally refers to latency, not bandwidth, so having lots of bandwidth does not make a large difference. Using compression tends to actually make it worse.

The reason satellite internet is so slow is because the US military restricts the frequencies used so that they can maintain much higher bandwidth for themselves. I think I read something about them releasing some rstricted frequencies back to the public a little while ago to help with satellite communications.

It has nothing to do with bandwidth. Sat is slow because you use a phone line to upload, or at best a very low power uplink transmitter. Then you have to do with the speed of light issue, which means your latency will always be horrible. Some systems have a 1+ second ping because of this. It doesn't matter if you have a 1GB/s downlink, with a 1 second ping, its going to feel slow.

RE: Over budget
By Araemo on 2/5/2007 9:15:10 AM , Rating: 4
You're all missing the point. Satellite usually = geosynchronous satellite.

Geosynchronous orbit is 35,786km above the surface of the earth.

Assuming your transmitter is at the equator, (35,786km from the satellite, best case scenario), your signal moving at the speed of light, the minimum one way delay(Base station to satellite to UAV/receiver) is ~.24 seconds.

Your 'ping' is a bare minimum of ~.48 seconds, or as is more normally listed: 480ms. That's significant lag to most FPS and flight sim players. ;P There is no way to reduce that short of putting the satellite in a lower orbit, or using direct-transmit rather than satellite-bounced communications. I find the latter far more likely on the battlefield.

If you move north or south from the equator, your physical straight line distance to the satellite only increases, so lag can never be better for a geosynchronous satellite.

To the guy who said its slow because you're uploading over dialup: You're only talking about consumer satellite broadband, and only some brands thereof. There are pure-satellite consumer broadband services, but they're overpriced and slow. ;)

RE: Over budget
By Dactyl on 2/5/2007 3:30:46 AM , Rating: 4
isn't lag a problem?
Only if the U.S.A.F. uses Yahoo! DSL.

Also, I heard they're equipping both the drones and ground stations with KillerNICs.

UAVs, for the next 10 years at the very least, will only use missiles and not cannons in air-to-air combat. The question is, how much autonomy can we give them (so they can think for themselves in terms of dodging/shooting with quick reflexes?). It would be nice if 1 computer operator could control a dozen combat UAVs, instead of flying each one like a video game.

I, for one, welcome our autonomous death machine overlords.

RE: Over budget
By The Sword 88 on 2/5/2007 12:00:40 AM , Rating: 2
UAV will never entirely replace pilots. A machine just cnat fly like a person can. Machines dotn ahve feelings or instincts or other thinsg a pilot needs.

RE: Over budget
By joust on 2/5/2007 12:13:19 AM , Rating: 3
Instinct and feelings are needed to stay alive. But when you're a drone (among 10,000 others) and survival is no longer vital, those no longer serve you.

Actually, the lag doesn't matter too much when you think about it. Just flood the area with thousands of drones. The 1 second delay might result in a couple getting killed, but so what? Your drone factory will just pump out another at a fraction of the cost of a manned aircraft (and pilot).

You also don't need a man in the loop at all times; the system could be one where the target is predesignated. Additionally, with computers getting better yearly, you can really outsource most control (such as flying) to the computer. In fact, that's what autopilot is.

RE: Over budget
By Felofasofa on 2/5/2007 12:56:07 AM , Rating: 2
Wrong, UAV's can pull g's and maneuvers that no pilot can without passing out. Even current planes like F16's can pull a lot higher g's than pilots can withstand. Point is people are the weak link, the future is with the little robot planes, and you can bet your sweet ass China's gonna make zillions of em. Watch out boys the end of "Pax Americana" is coming, here comes the "Empire of the Chin"

RE: Over budget
By stromgald on 2/5/07, Rating: 0
RE: Over budget
By cheetah2k on 2/5/2007 1:19:54 AM , Rating: 5
I doubt China has even close to the technology required to build a UAV. At least not one that can fight

Hang on, you're talking about the country where the majority of radio controlled tech is made?

Don't under-estimate the chinese mate. They have more borrowed tech than any other country in the world. They are also highly advanced in the design & manufacture of electronics.

I live in Hong Kong mate. You would be surprised by the stuff you can find here.

RE: Over budget
By saratoga on 2/5/2007 2:54:17 AM , Rating: 3
I doubt China has even close to the technology required to build a UAV. At least not one that can fight. For recon, they can probably do it.

Yeah they only build all our wireless devices. What do they know about wireless devices.

RE: Over budget
By stromgald on 2/5/2007 11:25:30 AM , Rating: 2
Um, do you people not read what I post? I said they could probably make recon UAVs, but not UCAVs.

They have the technology for sending a receiving signals, but that doesn't really give them anywhere close to the knowledge required to build a flight control system or anything "fly-by-wire". The computers and more specifically, the software onboard a UCAV is what will be the deciding factor.

Flight dynamics is another critical area they are lacking. China has almost zero experience in building aircraft. The vast majority of their aircraft have come from the Russians, US, or Europe. I highly doubt that they have the experience needed to build a advanced flight control system. At best, they could have a remote controlled business jet with missiles in the next 10 years. It's possible that the Russians sell them something, but I don't think the Russians will spend the money on a advanced UCAV and sell large amounts to China.

RE: Over budget
By ira176 on 2/5/07, Rating: 0
"Well, we didn't have anyone in line that got shot waiting for our system." -- Nintendo of America Vice President Perrin Kaplan
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